Monday, October 8, 2007

Only a Wife in Name

Yes, Elizabeth Edwards is THAT good.

Ms. Edwards' first words in Concord, NH on Sunday were that she was going to focus the event on health care. With a husband as invested in health care as John Edwards is, it's not hard to know where her knowledge of the issue comes from. Blowing my expectations away, however, Ms. Edwards knew about more than health care; she eloquently answered questions about Darfur and other topics, took tremendous effort to address specific questions tried to clarify what she was being asked if it wasn't clear (it seems easy, but most politicians use those opportunities to jump to their talking points), and spoke and connected with people from the heart.

Some have criticized the campaign tactics of John and Elizabeth of late, but the one story I never jumped on was the $400 haircut fiasco. Why? Because I've never doubted the honest intentions of the Edwards family. I know that John is dedicated to the issue of poverty in America and I can feel the compassion and caring of Elizabeth when she speaks with voters, especially those afflicted by serious illness. "Hope" means one thing from Barack Obama, but it means something else from John and Elizabeth Edwards.

I can't help but think that I ended up at Elizabeth's event by accident--a spur of the moment New Hampshire stop after showing up a week early for an environmental conference in Manchester. John Edwards is one of the only candidates I haven't spend much time covering in New Hampshire, and I certainly won't avoid him the next time he's in the state. And that's all because of his wife--only Bill Clinton plays at this level.

People often tout Bill Richardson's name around as a potentially-successful Senator, and while his home state of New Mexico is of more importance to the Democrats than North Caroline, Elizabeth Edwards sure seems like she'd make an exceptional politician herself. Ms. Edwards is only a wife by name--too often the word in politics comes to symbolize the Stepford spouses that hold their husband's hand and visit preschools--she's a terrific orator and public servant.

Though she may not have the businesswoman look of Michelle Obama, the riches of Cindy McCain, and the convenient phone-calling of Judith Giuliani, Elizabeth Edwards brings to her husband's campaign even more of what it thrives off of--honesty, compassion, intelligence, and the aura of a best friend. Whether speaking on increasing nursing education, the importance of personal diagnosis from local doctors, or the courage shown by one man at the event who had learned the complex processes involved in caring for a loved one, Elizabeth Edwards confides in her audiences rather than pontificate to them.

The media is quick to announce that Ms. Edwards is breaking campaign convention by maintaining such a high profile and hitting the trail herself, but on the ground her presence is so welcomed and refreshing that it seems strange anyone would need to make a big deal of it. The atmosphere at Sunday's event was so comfortable that Elizabeth would, in an unembarrassed manner, blow her nose when she needed and accept an offer of a small pack of tissues from one man in the audience. Maybe that only happened because she's not a big-shot politician who relies on a pack of eager staffers to give her whatever she needs a moment's notice, but as long as she keeps doing what she's been doing, she'll be one of the greatest factors working to the advantage of John Edwards in the coming months.

(all photos: 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

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